#GenderEqualityIs a safe and equal learning environment for both boys and girls

By Rose Fishman
February 7, 2018

School-related gender-based violence is a significant problem in Burkina Faso. It can take many forms, such as harassment; bullying; and physical and sexual abuse. And, it can result in serious consequences for girls’ education, including reduced enrollment; undermined participation and achievement; and increased absenteeism and dropout rates for female students.

Surveys completed in sub-Saharan Africa indicate that SRGBV is widespread and occurs on a daily basis, with girls as the primary targets. A 2009 study conducted in Burkina Faso showed that violence is common throughout the school system — in primary and secondary schools, public and private schools and in rural and urban areas. In addition, more recent studies have shown that children in rural and periurban areas of Burkina Faso are at increased risk for sexual abuse.

In December 2017, Plan International conducted a survey in two schools participating in Burkina Faso’s Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools pilot project. Survey results showed that only 27% of female students and 61% of male students agreed that girls are safe from violence at school. On the other hand, 32% of female students and 67% of male students agreed that boys are safe from violence at school. These low percentages of perceived safety imply a significant problem in Burkina Faso.

In addition, inadequate menstrual management resources represent a significant barrier to girls’ attendance and participation in school. Many girls do not have access to the facilities, supplies or knowledge needed to manage their menstruation safely, privately and comfortably. Together, SRGBV and inadequate menstrual hygiene management resources seriously impact girls’ education, contributing to the gender gap seen in Burkina Faso’s education system, where women and girls have lower levels of education, school completion and literacy than their male counterparts.

In order to increase safety and equality in schools, the PEASS project is engaging post-primary girls and boys, as well as teachers, using a gender-transformative approach to bring about positive shifts in attitudes and behaviors toward gender, violence and menstruation. To accomplish this, the project is partnering with Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Education to provide teachers with SRGBV and MHM training that promotes equitable attitudes and gives teachers the skills and knowledge to respond appropriately.

This training will be cascaded down to students through positive role models, trained peer mentors and the establishment of related school clubs. In order to create an enabling environment to help sustain positive change, PEASS is not only engaging ministry officials, pedagogical advisors, teachers and non-teaching staff, but also raising awareness among parents and surrounding communities.

While the trainings and awareness-raising sessions at the school and community levels will increase knowledge and understanding of issues affecting girls’ safety in schools, the project is also addressing students’ immediate needs through the establishment of a school-based violence reporting mechanism and the rehabilitation of school facilities to assist girls with MHM.

Now entering its second year of implementation, the PEASS project has successfully gained the support of the national and local government as well as community stakeholders, who have played a critical role in creating and adapting SRGBV and MHM training materials while also building community awareness of the project. The project is moving forward with community engagement preparations and teacher trainings are currently in progress.

When the PEASS model was applied in Vietnam, Plan reached nearly 40,000 children and 1,800 teachers and school staff members. Now, Plan staff in Burkina Faso are modifying the model so it can be successfully implemented in the countries in West Africa where Plan works. We hope that the PEASS model will be replicated, further reducing barriers to girls’ education around the world.